OAKLAND -- Nestled in a canyon in an Oakland neighborhood lies a rare 7-acre oasis of green and multiple shades of rose, the Morcom Rose Garden, a 1930s-era formal garden with winding paths, climbing stairways and lovely fountains and pools. It is home to almost 5,000 rose bushes, and the fact that they all continue to bloom is partly due to a group of volunteers, appropriately named The Dedicated Deadheaders.
By late spring, in spectacular display, all are in bloom at the same time and each rose must be removed in order to bloom again.
"That's why the Deadheaders are here," said Tora Rocha, park supervisor. "Deadheading is a constant job and that's why without the Deadheaders there's no way we could do it."
Rocha knew something would need to be done when budget cuts in 2009 added 12 additional locations to her Morcom Rose Garden assignment. She started talking to neighbors who visited the garden, and when one heard that Rocha was offering a deadheading workshop, the association with the Grateful Dead band was made. "Ding, ding, a little light went off in my head, and I decided to name the volunteers The Dedicated Deadheaders," Rocha said.
Rocha set up the second Saturday of each month for volunteer work, but the big kickoff came when the tool shed was broken into. The theft of all the garden's tools created a huge response from the neighborhood. Knowing that people were willing to help led Rocha to create a master volunteer program since she knew that helpers would need a certain amount of horticultural knowledge to properly maintain the garden.
At present, The Dedicated Deadheaders meet the second Saturday and every Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. to keep up with the constant need for weeding in the herbicide- and pesticide-free organic garden and to mulch, deadhead and prune. Each volunteer must go through two one-on-one training sessions in which they learn to properly prune and care for roses in order to earn their tie dyed vest and be allowed to work on their own. Cathy Furtado, one of the original group of Deadheaders, joined as a newcomer to the Oakland area.
"It turned out to be my entry into a group of community-minded people and it's something I've kept up," she said. "I've made friendships, and I have the feeling of contributing to my community."
Jane Bicek walked through the garden for 15 years on her way to and from work.
"I felt that I should give back, and I was very interested in preserving this beautiful part of my neighborhood," Bicek said.
Both volunteers have gained through their experiences as Deadheaders and from working with Rocha, who they credit with being an excellent teacher and truly dedicated to her job.
"The people, the sense of community and learning to prune -- these are the main things I've benefited from," Bicek said.
"Working in the soil is my way to reconnect to nature," Furtado added.
Rocha readily admitted that The Dedicated Deadheaders are critical to maintaining the garden and to keeping the park alive. Aside from their necessity, she believes that neighborhood involvement builds a sense of community in the open, green spaces that attract people to live in Oakland.
And the benefits are two-sided. Volunteers learn about organic gardening techniques they can use at home, they get great exercise and get to know their neighbors in a beautiful setting. But in the end, it's the Morcom Rose Garden that lures them in.
"I think it's very peaceful; it's a little respite from the rest of the city," Furtado said.
"I think the beauty is that it has that secret-garden feel," Rocha added. "It's a magical place full of wildlife like songbirds, a pair of Cooper's hawks and two resident turkeys."
Morcom Rose Garden is located at 700 Jean St., Oakland, 510-597-5039.
To learn more about The Dedicated Deadheaders go to Friends of Morcom Rose Garden: http://friendsofoaklandrose.com/volunteer/deadheaders.